Federal officials identify cause of mysterious oil-worker deaths

Our lawyers represent oil-industry workers who are injured in the course of employment as well as the grieving survivors of workers who die from fatal work injury. Of course, these issues are important to Texans given the local prevalence of the oil and gas industries. Industrial activity in the petrochemical field ranges from extraction through transport and processing.At any of these stages, unsafe industrial working conditions can change the life of an employee or his or her family forever.It is important that injured workers or the survivors of deceased workers contact an experienced oil-and-gas attorney who can investigate all the surrounding circumstances of the harmful incident or condition that caused the injury or death. Oil and gas are dangerous substances and the associated chemistry and methods of processing can cause explosions, fire and the release of dangerous gases.Sadly, this became apparent when federal officials recently discovered that several mysterious deaths of oil workers were caused by sudden plumes of deadly gases released when they opened tank hatches.The horrendous story was detailed in an article in the Austin Sentinel. A suspicious pattern emerged after nine fracking workers, including one Texan, over five years were found dead when doing sampling or measuring in oil production tanks. The task is performed by climbing to the top of storage tanks and opening the hatch to measure the oil or gas condensation - called condensate - a task also called manual gauging.Federal work safety officials discovered that the deceased workers had been killed by exposure to a highly pressurized toxic, carcinogenic plume of hydrocarbon vapors that escaped when the tank hatches were opened. The gases and vapors suck up the oxygen in the surrounding air, causing workers to lose consciousness and pass away. The exposure can also cause irregular heart rhythm. In some cases, the causes of death were mistakenly attributed to heart failure from natural causes or preexisting disease.This problem is now publicly known and oil-and-gas employers should provide workers doing this task with a particular kind of respirator. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH issued a joint hazard alert earlier this year on the topic.The important take away from this sad story is that when a worker in the oil or gas industry is injured or killed in the course of employment, no stone should be left unturned to discover what happened. Scientific understanding of human handling of the dangerous chemicals involved is advancing. An attorney for the worker or his or her family can launch an investigation to find out whether there are legal remedies even beyond workers' compensation, such as a personal injury, product liability, premises liability or wrongful death lawsuit.